A recess day in the Rochester School District means Edison and Wilson kickoff the area high school season on local fields, when those teams meet, 2 p.m. Friday at East High in the city.
Area high school football is back after that, if you don’t count the offseason weightlifting sessions, camps and scrimmages.
More storylines will develop as teams move into the spotlight after certain wins, but here are some players and teams that could get your attention not long after the season starts:
Aquinas as a magnet Coach Chris Battaglia and athletic director Anthony Bianchi would like for Aquinas to have a low profile after what can be described as a tough 2014 season.
It is already difficult for one of Section V’s most successful programs to do that, and this year, there are at least five players on the roster who could end up on scholarships at schools in the college Football Bowl Subdivision. That five-pack includes a rarity in this area, a big-time Division I-caliber quarterback. Jake Zembiec, a senior, has a verbal commitment to play at Penn State University in the Big 10 Conference.
“I know we have good kids (as people) that’s what I’m really excited about,” Battaglia said. “I’ve known many of them for a long time. They’ve been in school together a long time. I think our kids will play hard.”
Aquinas opens the season 8 p.m. Saturday against Syracuse’s Christian Brothers Academy inside the Carrier Dome at Syracuse University, site of the state tournament finals. Battaglia is right for not wanting to look that far down the road at the state playoffs, but it is tempting to outsiders when the current talent level and past performances of the team are factored in.
“I think it’s one of the most competitive AA (classification) we’ve ever had,” Battaglia said. “If I lose a couple of kids, we’re done. If (Rush-Henrietta) loses kids it’s done. Pittsford has Josh Mack. If it loses a couple of kids, they’re done.
“Hey, we all think we can win it, but all it takes is one bad day during the (sectional) playoffs. We’ve had those before.”
Who are those kids? This is far from a complete list, so additions are welcomed, but the group of area players who may raise their profiles include two quarterbacks and a pair of very large young men.
Bishop Kearney quarterback Todd LaRocca is a senior listed at 6 foot-3 inches and 190 pounds. LaRocca completed 54 percent of his passes last season for 1,936 yards and 24 touchdowns. It is doubtful Bishop Kearney’s offense makes a switch to ground-and-pound with LaRocca under center and the Kings competing in Class D.
Braeden Zenelovic passed for more than 1,200 yards with 15 touchdowns for a 4-4 Wayne team last fall. Not bad for a freshman. The Finger Lakes East division all-star already is looking at colleges. How long before recruiters check him out?
One of the nicknames for Eastridge two-way lineman Joe Capuano is “Big Joe”. At 6-3, 325 pounds, the name fits. The third-year starter went to a camp run by SUNY at Buffalo and there is some interest from the United States Naval Academy
Greece Arcadia junior Anthony Finucane also is difficult to overlook at 6-2, 310 pounds. The Titans left tackle/defensive end joined the Arcadia varsity as an eighth-grader and moved into the starting lineup the following year.
“He has good feet, that’s the difference between him and others,” Arcadia coach John Lockhart said. “We took him to the Syracuse combine and to Penn State. He did really well. He’s the real deal.”
Sleeping giants rise? Success in high school football runs in cycles. See Gates Chili and Fairport.
The Gates Chili Spartans won three Section V titles in six years during the 2000s. They try to rebound from a one-win season under Jason Benham – the same coach when the Spartans won championships in 2003, 2006 and 2008 – with six starters back on both sides of the ball. Junior quarterback Stephen Fammi was a first-team Monroe County league all-star last season.
Fairport was a dynasty during the 1990s, with six sectional championships during that decade. The last of those titles came in 1998, and there have been none since for the Red Raiders. David Whitcomb, all but a certain Section V Hall of Fame coach with more than 200 wins, is still at work rebuilding the program.
The Red Raiders have less returning starters back, four on both sides, but two of those are Monroe County all-star running back Jahadi Prior and 210-pound senior classmate Devin Williams. Fairport quarterback Keshawn Howard, last season’s starter, is back for his junior season, too. So it seems the focus will really be on the offensive line, anchored by 6-5, 305-pound junior Kyle Schreiner.
Where did these guys come from? While there is a history of love between Batavia and football, there have been rough patches with the high school Blue Devils.
One small example is that fourth-year coach Brennan Briggs has a career record of 15-12, after 9-2 Batavia won its first sectional title in 23 years last season. The bottom rail is now on top in Class B. Area coaches voted the Blue Devils No. 1 in the Democrat and Chronicle‘s first poll of the season for coaches at small or Class B, C and D schools.
“This is kind of unmarked waters for us,” Briggs said. “We’ve never been a team where there is a lot of talk about.”
How will the Blue Devils, who have 16 of 22 starters back – including all-state second team quarterback Greg Murczek – handle the attention? Their schedule includes Class A Wilson and University Prep, 2014 Class B sectional semifinalist Penn Yan, Wayne and 2013 sectional champion Geneva.
New coaches mean new eras: This is the first season in the 25-year history of Churchville-Chili Saints football (21 at the varsity level) that someone other than Paul Dick coaches the team.
Troy Jeffers, a longtime assistant at Gates Chili, replaces Dick.
Le Roy’s Brian Moran, the school’s athletic director, won 203 games before he retired after last season. Brian Herdlein, LeRoy’s offensive coordinator the last six seasons and a 1998 Democrat and Chronicle All-Greater Rochester quarterback at Batavia, replaces Moran.
Conference supremacy: Le Roy and Livonia are in different Section V classifications, which are based on enrollment figures.
Yet, the matchup between the teams Oct. 16 at Le Roy may be a battle to see which is the Livingston County Athletic Association’s top team. The Bath Rams and other teams in the league may disagree with that.
The same may go for East of the Rochester City Athletic Conference, but Wilson’s defense made the Wildcats the best among the teams in the Rochester School District. Wilson failed to defeat McQuaid, and it seems those teams are the favorites to win the RCAC title this season.
McQuaid, with RCAC player of the year and senior tight end Demetrius Breedlove, plays Wilson Sept. 25 at Sahlen’s Stadium.
Underdog that can bite: An 0-3 start ultimately kept Spencerport out of the sectional playoffs, but the Rangers won their next six, including the Connors and Ferris Bowl.
The Rangers should be excited. There is the confidence generated with a long win streak, that four returning starters on offense and five on defense, helped build. It should be clear that coach John Dowd, in his sixth year at Spencerport, is a good coach. His record, including six years at Oakfield-Alabama, is 70-33.
Tahj Snow is back at running back after he averaged eight yards a carry last season. Three of the defensive starters back are on the line, where a defense can control an offense.
The not-as-good news for the Rangers is that yes, they move from Class AA to A, but their new classification seems just as crowded with sectional title contenders.